Refe Tuma had always dreamed of writing a book, but he never thought it would be about dinosaurs.
After having their fourth child, Refe and his wife Susan found themselves looking for ways to get their kids excited, and as Refe puts it, “give them something to look forward to each day even though mom and dad were tired.” The solution came almost by accident: Susan found some old toy dinosaurs and placed them along the sink with toothbrushes in their plastic claws. The next morning, their 4-year-old daughter ran into their bedroom, exclaiming that the dinosaurs had come to life and were brushing their teeth.
That was in November 2012. Each night throughout that month, the parents carefully positioned the herd of dinosaurs around the house; each morning the children would wake up to further proof that the toys had come to life. Refe and Susan retired the prank at the end of the month, but their kids kept asking about the dinosaurs, prompting the parents to turn it into a tradition.
In early November of last year, Refe created a Facebook page for Dinovember — their name for the monthlong event — to share Susan’s pictures of the dinosaurs with friends and family on the social network. A few days later, Refe decided to publish a post about it on Medium, a relatively new blogging platform that he had recently joined. The post was intended to serve as a “primer” about Dinovember for a small audience of acquaintances.
That’s not quite what happened.
The Medium story was picked up by a number of outlets including The Huffington Post and The Today Show. To date, Refe’s Medium post has been viewed 3.5 million times and the Facebook page has attracted 265,000 fans.
John Parsely was one of the many to come across the Medium post that month. Parsely is the executive editor of non-fiction at Little, Brown. He also happens to be a father of twins who has tried similar gimmicks with his kids to “string their imaginations along.”
“I knew I wanted to publish it immediately,” Parsely told Mashable. He reached out to Refe that night about turning Dinovember into a book. After some back and forth between Refe and Parsely and between Parsely and various departments at Little, Brown, they agreed to terms at the end of the year.
This month, Little, Brown announced plans to publish What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night, an adult book collecting new and never-before-seen pictures from the Dinovember project. Little, Brown plans to follow that up with a children’s book in 2015, which will have more of a narrative to it.
Refe, a copywriter by trade, says he “absolutely” dreamed of writing a book one day. “This is not what I anticipated it looking like at all,” he told Mashable. “We’re especially excited to be able to do it together, having a project that enables my wife to be creative and take these photographs, and myself to be able to do this writing and tell these stories.”
The book deal isn’t just significant for Refe and Susan, it also marks a major milestone for the year-and-a-half-old Medium. This is the first time a Medium post has resulted in a book, according to Kate Lee, director of content at Medium.
That could prove to be a boon for the young service as it works to provide a better platform for telling stories. Ev Williams, the Twitter cofounder behind Medium, previously told Mashable that his goal is to build “a platform that helps words shine, because it seems like that’s what’s needed now.”
Parsely, the editor, says he reads Medium regularly for pleasure and with an eye towards potential acquisitions. “If something pops there, it’s one small bit of evidence that adds up with all the others to make a decision about whether it’s worthy of a book, or would be a book that we would publish well,” he says.
Ironically enough, the reason that Refe turned to Medium in the first place was partly because it felt like a platform he could play around on “without really much pressure” because “there weren’t a ton of people on it at the time.”
While Refe and Susan are focused on the book, print may not be the end of the road for Dinovember. Both Tuma and Parsely leave the door open for the possibility that Dinovember could eventually turn into a movie or TV show.
“If you’d asked have asked me on Oct. 31 if Dinovember would inspire a book, I would have thought you were crazy, so who knows?” Tuma says. “Right now we’re just focusing on making the book as fun as possible.”
He added: “Our kids have been begging us to write a book about their dinosaurs, so What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night lets us do that for them. The kids haven’t mentioned a movie yet.”